Digital Journalism 101: Get the Story Out Fast, Then Do the Follow-Up Reporting

Here’s an instructive example of a catchup story that is designed to make up for poor journalism without actually admitting it.

Over the weekend, you may have read that 755 U.S. diplomats were being expelled from Russia. Turns out that the 755 will be all or almost all Russian citizens who work in clerical or support jobs at the U.S. mission outposts. But that’s not the way many outlets reported it. (Not trying to single out Reuters here.)

Doubtless this was due in part to the sloppy way the Russian government released the information about its intent and the weekend absence of Foreign Ministry and U.S. Embassy personnel who might have clarified the situation. But I think it was also due to tendency to put the most sensational spin possible on a story to get the most clicks. And the perceived imperative to put a story out as fast as possible without necessarily doing the follow-up reporting needed. The media sometimes sabotage their own credibility this way.

—Bob Cullen on Facebook. Cullen was Newsweek’s Moscow bureau chief from 1982 to 1984 and he’s covered Russia for The New Yorker and The Atlantic. He is the author of, Twilight of Empire: Inside the Crumbling Soviet Bloc, about the breakup of the Soviet Union.

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